Eoin Butler: writer, journalist and Mayoman of the Year

Tripping Along The Ledge


Sorry RTE… this is Ireland’s greatest person.

Unpublished, August 2010

Next month RTE launches its search to find Ireland’s Greatest Person. As usual when the national broadcaster adapts a successful format from abroad, the resulting mess will likely serve only to remind us of what a small and, in the wider scheme of things, insignificant nation this actually is.

The BBC’s 100 Greatest Britons list in 2002 included personages as august as Churchill, Shakespeare and Darwin. Our list runs to only forty names. But it still finds room to indulge the preposterous candidatures of Mssrs. Daniel O’Donnell, Michael O’Leary and fully three (three!) members of the Boyzone camp: Ronan, Stephen and Louis Walsh. That’s the same as the total number of women who made the list, incidentally. But fuck that. My sympathies here are with Keith Duffy. This can only be construed as a personal snub. What the fuck, like?

Of course, there are some names there whose greatness no one could dispute: Yeats, Wilde and Paul McGrath among them. But there’s one name in particular that I’m really aggrieved to find missing. One man more deserving of the accolade Ireland’s Greatest Person than any other.

That man is John Rocha.

Now I’ll be honest with you, folks. I have no idea what John Rocha actually does. I think he designs shoes or something. I’m sure he’s very good at it. But I’m more interested in his sideline as the nation’s all-purpose esoteric guru-in-chief.

Let me explain what I’m talking about here. About five years ago, I was shopping for a present for some American friends when I came across something called the Kilkenny Book of Irish Cooking. Prominently featured below the title were the words “with an introduction by John Rocha.” Well, I opened it up and had a flick through it.

In his introduction Rocha had written, basically, that Irish people have a long relationship with food and food-preparation, and that recent socio-economic and cultural changes were reflected in our diet. It was riveted to the spot. I could not believe what I was reading.

This was like something I’d have written in my Leaving Cert, who I’d already answered every question I actually had a clue about, but still had one more left to get through. It was a master class in waffle, in other words. And better still, he’d probably been paid a small fortune to write it. That was it. This man was my new God.

He reminded me a bit, in fact, of Tom Cruise in The Last Samurai. You remember, Cruise was an American soldier who went to Japan in the 19th century and ended up becoming the greatest samurai in the empire. The way I saw it, that was kind of what John Rocha had done in Ireland. Think about it. The Irish are a nation of bullshitters. But this guy had just come in and beaten us at our own game.

Some time later, I caught an interview with him on one of the chat shows. He told the host that, each spring, he likes to wash his hair in the lakes and rivers of the west of Ireland. I think he said it was a cleansing ritual or something like that. The audience were lapping it up. The interviewer practically achieved orgasm.

Well my father and I sat on our couch and we laughed and laughed. You had to hand it to the guy. He just did not give a damn.

On this occasion, however, there was to be an interesting postscript. The following April, my father, as was his wont, went out swimming in Urlar Lake one evening. He was on his own, threading water in the middle of the lake, when he saw a rather flashy car pull up and stop. A small rotund Chinese man jumped out, ran down to the water and stuck his head in. He then jumped back into the car and drove away.

The whole thing was over in about thirty seconds.

Now I wasn’t there to witness this myself at the time. And I’ll admit my father didn’t tend to use this type of expression. But I like to think my father whistled to himself and exclaimed “Well, I’ll be a son of a gun!”

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you… your greatest living Irishman!

[This would have been my final column for The Dubliner, but they spiked it. They reckoned it was libellous. Fuck it. They might have been right. I have no idea. I’d already decided to quit at that point and for totally unrelated reasons.]

August 30th, 2010.

14 Responses to “Sorry RTE… this is Ireland’s greatest person.”

  1. gueuleton Says:

    How on earth came up with this list?

  2. Eoin Says:

    Ehm, not sure Gueuleton. Possibly the viewers of The Den.

  3. Alex Says:

    This makes me feel ill. THREE Boyzone related people? Honestly. Ill.

  4. Eoin Says:

    Quibbling over the composition of ‘best of’ lists almost always a mugs game. Having said that, yes, this one does seem to have been compiled by morons. Wot, no Royston Brady?

  5. Ponyo Says:

    ah Royston you biscuit! I spent a night in his house one time and pondered a novel, the secret world of Royston Brady – get up don’t read books. He had bookshelves upon shelves of books on everything, Karl Marx, Che Guevara and each one of them visibly untouched.

  6. Eoin Says:

    You spent the night in his house? Er, were you both naked at any point?

  7. Ponyo Says:

    Friend of mine’s Auntie is married to him. We were down in Dublin trying to find a place to live so he could go to College and I could sit on me hole and ended up not getting a place and needing to stay somewhere. They lived in this gated community that seemed really empty. I cant remember what was paid for it but remeber thinking it was ridiculous. Then again, forty quid was ridiculous to me. I remember his wife being really pissed off because at the end of the tour in which we remained silent one of us said “nice digs”. Not the response she wanted

  8. Ponyo Says:

    I put forward Daithi O Se for this list. Remember in the Proust questionnaire in the Galway paper last year they asked him “which historical figure do you most identify with?”
    I can’t even remember them all now but I remember he identified with
    Michael Collins
    Eamon DeValera
    Che Guevara
    the list was actually longer than this, why didnt I keep it

    Was he joking?
    his face said no

  9. Eoin Says:

    I’ve always thought of Daithi as more of a Napoleonic figure myself.

    (Actually, I did a television thing with his father last year and I must admit he was gas crack for a man of his age.)

  10. Gerry Says:

    As you say, Eoin, the list was “compiled by morons”: it was a public vote.

  11. Eoin Says:

    The list is a joke then. But of course, if I’m being honest, I only used it as a flimsy pretext to rehash an old anecdote I’ve told before about John Rocha as a column before going on holiday.

    So who among us is blameless?

  12. Fintan Says:

    I don’t think the public are morons. I just think its pretty stupid handing over a job that requires specialist in depth knowledge to a public vote. This is like as if a patient had cancer and letting the public decide how to treat it.

  13. Gerry Says:

    Fair point, but this isn’t a specialist job. It’s not even a job. It doesn’t require specialist in-depth knowledge. It’s just an opinion on who people like or don’t like. Which will then lead to a shallow piece of chewing gum tv. It’s not a cure for cancer…

  14. Eoin Says:

    Sorry, yeah. I meant to come back in on this…

    Chewing gum TV is definitely not a matter of life or death. But I do kinda agree with Fintan insofar as I don’t think there’s any subject the general public is qualified to pass judgement.

    We elect our own political representatives of course – and do an appalling job of it – but that’s only because any alternative to that would be infinitely worse. It’s a ‘least bad’ solution.

Leave a Comment